In this study we will examine an atttitude that ought to characterize and govern every Christian. It is the attitude of hope. When we first hear the word “hope” we generally think of something like a “wish”. This type of “hope” is nothing more than desiring that circumstances randomly align for our pleasure or benefit. There is no concrete basis for this hope, only a desire that something happen. This is not a Biblical definition of hope.
Unlike the world’s concept of hope, Biblical hope has no uncertainty about it. It is not helplessly wishing that something will happen, but it is a confident expectation that God will fulfill what he has promised.
The world does not have this hope.
Look Up: Prov 10:28; Job 8:13. Q. What will happen to the hope of the wicked?
Job 11:20 tells us that the hope of the unsaved will fail, it will be like a dead person “giving up the ghost”. Whether it be money, success, good works, or the belief systems they have invented themselves, it is all empty and fleeting. The hope of the Christian is not this way.
Look Up: Heb 6:18-19. Q. What three words reflect the stable and secure nature of the Christian’s hope?
The Christian’s hope is stable and secure because it rests on God’s unchanging promises. This hope is not “wishful thinking”, it is confidently expecting that what God has promised he will bring to pass.
Look Up: Heb 11:1. Q. How is hope related to faith?
Faith and hope are inseparable. Faith is taking those things which we hope for and counting them as substantive and concrete. It is living in full assurance that those things which we hope for will, indeed, come to pass. Now, as we will see, this is not wishful thinking but a reasonable hope founded upon the promises of God.
The Reasons for our Christian Hope
In 1 Peter 3:15, Peter encourages Christians to “be ready always” to explain the reasons for the “hope that is in you”. Let’s consider some of the reasons that underlie the Christian’s hope.
1. Christ’s Resurrection and Return
Look Up: 1 Cor 15:14, 17-18 Q. What are the consequences if Christ is not risen from the dead?
If Christ is not risen than our faith and our preaching is vain, we are still in our sins and those who have died have perished like any other animal. This is a hopeless scenario. Thankfully it is not the truth. Look at 1 Peter 1:3:
Look Up: 1 Peter 1:3. Q. Because Christ is risen, what are we “begotten to” ?
All of God’s promises are bound up in the person of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 1:20). It was his resurrection from the dead that set the fulfillment of those promises into motion. His resurrection was the confirmation that he was indeed the son of God and that he could and would fulfill his promises (Rom 1:4). Look up John 14:2-3 to see one of these promises:
Look Up: John 14:2-3. Q. What did Jesus go to Heaven to do? According to v3, What will he do?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ confirmed that he was the son of God and made all of his promises credible. One such promise was his pledge to prepare a place in Heaven for us and to come again in order to receive us into Heaven. Look at Titus 2:13 to see just how integral the return of Christ is to the Christian’s hope.
Look Up: Titus 2:13. Q. What did Paul describe as “the blessed hope”?
It is his return that ushers in the fulfillment of every other promise which God has given to man (2 Cor 1:20). If Christ had not promised to return than the Christian would have no hope in this world (Eph 2:12; 1 Cor 15:19), and if he did not rise from the dead than his promise would have no credibility. But because he has risen, he has left us with a lively, vibrant hope. This is the same hope that turned the depressed and discouraged disciples after Christ’s death into powerful, bold proclaimers of the gospel following His resurrection!
2. Our Resurrection from the Dead
Not only has the resurrection of Jesus Christ given us a hope for his return, but it has also given us a hope for our own future resurrection.
Look Up: 1 Cor 15:20-23. Q. v20. When Christ rose from the dead, what did he become?
The firstfruits were the first of a crop to be harvested and were an indication of the full harvest which would follow. Christ was the firstfruits and his resurrection paved the way for the resurrection of every believer. His resurrection was the assurance that we too could hope for our own resurrection. In fact, without this hope, the Bible tells us that the Christian life would be one of misery!
Look Up: 1 Cor 15:19. Q. If our hope does not include our coming resurrection than what does this say about our present lives?
Look Up: Acts 24:15. Q. What did Paul have hope in God for?
Look Up: Acts 23:6. Q. How did Paul describe his belief in the resurrection from the dead?
As Christians we look forward the coming of Jesus Christ and our resurrection from the dead with a confident expectation. We know it will happen because God has promised that it will, and has confirmed it by the resurrection of his Son. This is not a fleeting, vain or futile hope but a hope which rests soundly on God’s promises.
Discuss. How might our hope in a future resurrection practically affect the way we live this life?
Our hope rests in Christ’s resurrection, His return, our resurrection and next of all, it rests in God’s promise to us of our glorification
3. Our Glorification
Our salvation really has three tenses to it. The moment we were saved, the Bible says we were justified. This has to do with our deliverance from the penalty of sin. The Christian will never face the wrath or condemnation of God because Christ has satisfied God’s judgment on the cross. That is the past tense of salvation.
Secondly, there is the present tense. This is what the Bible calls sanctification. This is a continual process in the life of a Christian as God makes him more and more like Jesus Christ and gives him daily victory over the power of sin. In this sense, it is legitimate to say that we are “being saved”.
Lastly, there is a future tense of salvation. Not only have we been justified in the past, and are being sanctified in the present but we will be glorified in the future.
Look Up: Romans 8:21. Q. What will we be delivered from? What will we be delivered into?
The moment we were saved, God made us “spiritually alive”. He made us new creatures on the inside but this did not affect our fleshly bodies. Our bodies are yet to be changed, this is what glorification is all about. It is the time when we will finally be made like Jesus Christ and even our fleshly bodies are made new. So, there remains an aspect of our salvation which has not yet come to pass. Because this final aspect of our salvation is yet to happen, it is something that we hope for.
Look Up: Romans 8:29-30. Q. What are the five aspects of salvation mentioned here?
God loved us from the foundation of the world (foreknowledge [Rom 11:2]) and predetermined that we would become like Christ (predestination). He then called us to salvation and at that moment forgave us all of our sin (justification). Notice that in this passage those whom he foreknew are the very same whom he predestined and called and justified. Likewise, all who are justified are glorified. God’s promises are so secure that even those which have not yet come to pass can be referred to in the present tense (Rom 8:17, 21)!
Each and every one of these aspects of salvation from foreknowledge to glorification are inseparable. There has never been a man who was “foreknown” of God but was not predestined; and there has never been a man who has been predestined who has not been called or justified. Likewise, every man, woman or child who has ever been saved will be glorified!
Look Up: Philippians 3:20-21. Q. v20. What are we looking forward to (fully expecting to happen)?
Q. v21. What will Christ do with our bodies when he returns?
It is because there remains a future glorification for us that we read in the Bible phrases like “lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” and “now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” These refer to our final redemption and glorification; it is actually the completion of the salvation which began the moment we believed.
Discuss. How might this hope encourage us in this life?
So, the Christian’s hope includes an anticipation of the return of Christ, our resurrection, our glorification and next of all, it includes hope of an eternal inheritance in Heaven.
4. Our Eternal Inheritance in Heaven
Look Up: According to Titus 1:2, What was Paul hoping for?
Paul prayed in Ephesians 1 that the believers in Ephesus would enter into a deeper understanding of the “hope of their calling” and “the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18). He wanted them to grasp and then stand firmly upon the hope that awaited them. The Christian hope looks forward to an inheritance in Heaven.
Look Up: 1 Peter 1:3-4. Q. According to v4, What are we looking forward to?
Q. v4. In what four ways does Peter describe this inheritance? How does his description emphasize the sure nature of our inheritance?
Once Christ returns a series of events are set into motion. We are resurrected, we are glorified, we are given our eternal inheritance in Heaven and as 1 Thess 4:17 says, from that time on we will “ever be with the Lord”. These are tremendous promises which lead to a tremendous hope. We are not wishing for these things to come to pass but are confidently expecting them to happen based upon the promises and unwavering faithfulness of our “God of hope” (Rom 15:13).
The Abiding Character of Hope
Since the Christian’s hope in Christ’s future return and future redemption is more than simple wishful thinking, it will have a real, practical impact on his present life. We can summarize the hopeful Christian’s character by simply saying “he abides in Christ”.
Look Up: 1 John 2:28-29. Q. According to v28, what is our motivation to “abide” in Christ?
The day is coming when Christ will return and we will all stand before him as our judge (Acts 10:42; Rom 14:10). This should motivate us, in this life, to “abide” in him. It is by abiding in Christ that we can be confident and not ashamed when he returns. So, what does it mean to abide in Christ?
To “abide” simply means “to continue, remain or endure”. It speaks of the Christian who remains faithful to Jesus Christ throughout his entire life.
Look Up: John 8:31. Q. Who are Christ’s true disciples?
Discuss. The word “continue” in this verse is the same word translated “abide” in 1 John 2:28. What do you think it means to “continue in Christ’s word?”
Look Up: John 15:9. Q. What did Jesus tell us to continue or abide in?
Look Up: John 15:10. Q. How do we abide in his love?
Look Up: 1 John 2:29. Q. Immediately after John told us to “abide in Christ” in 1 John 2:28, he went on to indicate one of the characteristics of abiding. What will be one of the marks of one who is abiding in Christ?
Look Up: 1 John 2:6. Q. Summarize this verse in your own words.
Abiding in Jesus Christ requires that we live a life of continual obedience to his words. This obedience will result in righteous living and is clear evidence that we are, indeed, Christ’s disciples. (Rom 6:16-22; 1 John 3:10; John 8:31).
Discuss. Considering the above verses, what should we think of the man or woman who professes to be Christ’s disciple but does not obey his commands or live righteously?
Look Up: 1 John 2:19. Q. In this passage John is discussing the unfortunate fact that some who had once professed to be Christians had since left the church. What did their departure from the church reveal (manifest) about them?
Q. If they had indeed been Christians what would they have done?
The hope which we have in Christ is a pervasive hope. It permeates every area of our lives. It is not accurate or biblical to claim that someone is a disciple of Jesus Christ and has a legitimate hope for His return if his life is not characterized by obedience to Christ’s commands. In fact, according to John, the failure to continue (or abide) in Christ is a surefire way to tell if someone is an imposter!
Some would claim that this is an extreme or unreasonable understanding of salvation. They would assert that one can pray to receive Jesus Christ as their savior without continuing on in a life of obedience to God and still be assured of their salvation. The main fault of this view is that it fails to give proper place to the doctrine of regeneration. That is, that at the moment of salvation the believer is actually made spiritually new on the inside by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. This is a real transformation that results in a real change (2 Cor 5:17; Php 2:13; Eph 2:10).
Another doctrine that is essential to understanding this idea of abiding is the indwelling of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit not only makes us spiritually alive at the moment of salvation but he actually lives within believers until the return of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:30). So then, the ability to abide in Christ has the Holy Spirit of God as it’s source. This fact alone should eliminate the idea that “continuing in the faith” is too onerous a measure of salvation. The reality is, we abide in Christ because he abides in us! (John 14:16; John 15)
Look Up: 1 John 2:27. Q. Immediately before John told us to “abide in him” so that we would not “be ashamed before him at his coming” he gave us this verse. What have we received from God? What will this cause us to do?
Discuss. We are told to abide in Christ, yet we are also told that the Holy Spirit is the one who causes us to abide. Is our abiding in Christ God’s responsibility or ours? How do we reconcile this?
Like many aspects of salvation, abiding in Christ is both God’s responsibility and ours. He has promised that every believer who has been justified will be glorified (Rom 8:29,30); that we will never be plucked from his hand (John 10:28); that nothing will separate us from his love (Rom 8:38-39); and that he will continue his work in us until the coming of Christ (Php 1:6). So why are there so many other exhortations to endure to the end (Matt 24:13); to hold fast our profession (Heb 4:14; 10:23); and to patiently continue in Him (Rom 2:7)? Because these exhortations are some of the very means which God uses to keep us in the faith until the coming of Christ (1 Cor 1:8). The true believer obeys God’s commands to abide and he does it through hard work. He struggles to continue, and endures until the end and he does it by the power of the Holy Spirit. This successful perseverance until the end is not for salvation but is the evidence of true salvation and the hope which accompanies it.
Look Up: 2 Timothy 4:7. Q. What three ways did Paul characterize his life?
Look Up: 2 Timothy 4:8. Q. Because he faithfully abided in Christ, what was he looking forward to? How did he feel about Christ’s coming? How does this compare to 1 John 2:28?
The Christian’s hope causes him to be faithful to Christ until the end. This includes obeying his words, living righteously and purifying himself (1 John 3:2). Paul was a man who, driven by his hope of a future eternity with Jesus Christ, fought to abide in Christ and to endure until the end. This will be the evidence of your hope and my hope as well!
It is not uncommon to hear preachers and evangelist exhort Christians to “surrender” to God or to “lay it all on the altar”. These phrases are not bad or unbiblical per se, but they tend to paint a picture of a passive approach to spiritual growth. The Apostle Paul (who was clearly “surrendered to God” Gal 2:20) used much different language in describing how a Christian should live out his discipleship. Look up 1 Cor 9:24-27.
Look Up: v24-25. Q. What is Paul comparing our spiritual walk to?
Q. v26. What else does he compare it to in verse 26?
The Corinthians were thoroughly familiar with sporting events as their city was host to the Isthmian games, an Olympic-style sporting event held each year before and after the Olympics. The average Corinthian would have been keenly aware of the discipline and stamina required for a man to succeed at the games. Paul uses their familiarity with sporting events to help them understand the discipline necessary to succeed in the Christian life. He describes himself as a runner in a race who has a prize in his sights or a professional boxer who makes contact with each of his blows.
Q. v29. How did Paul’s self-discipline affect his relationship with his physical body?
Q. What was his motivation for bringing his body into subjection?
The phrases “keep under” and “bring it into subjection” literally mean to “subdue” or “make a slave”. In Paul’s mind, in order to be a spiritual success it required that he become the master of his own flesh and it’s desires and not the other way around.
Discuss. What fleshly tendencies do you think we must be in control of in order to be a spiritual success?
Self-Discipline – A Mark of Discipleship
An integral part of self-discipline is the idea of “self-denial”. We live in a society where self-denial has given way to indulgence and instant gratification. There is no need, in our affluent society, to go without or to deny ourselves anything. But that should not prevent the Christian from practicing self-denial. The disciplined Christian will learn to deny himself pleasures and indulgences, not only to protect his spiritual walk, but to ensure that he is in constant control of his flesh and not his flesh in control of him. This denial of self is a mark of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
Look Up: Matt 16:24. Q. What did Jesus say that a man should do to “self” if he desired to be His disciple?
Look Up: Gal 5:24. Q. What is a characterstic of those who “are Christ’s”?
Look Up: Rom 13:13-14. Q. How should “putting on Christ” affect the way we treat our flesh?
To be a disciple of Christ one must be willing to crucify himself. To give his life, his own desires and his own priorities over to the control of Jesus Christ. But giving control over to Jesus Christ is not an act of passivity. It involves the constant, day-by-day subjection of our own bodies to our control as we are lead by the Spirit of God.
Motivations for Self-Discipline
1. Seeking The Best
A lot of Christians spend their life trying to find the fine line between liberty and sin. Once they find that line they spend the rest of their lives in the precarious position of trying to walk that line without falling full-on into sin. Paul had a different perspective. He not only abstained from out-and-out sin but also avoided anything that had even the potential to control or hinder him.
Look Up: 1 Cor 6:12-13. Q. What did Paul say was true about “all things”?
Q. v12. What is not true about all things?
It is true that the Christian will be forgiven of every sin if he sincerely repents, asking God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9). But this is not a license to sin (Rom 6:1-2, 1 Peter 2:16). The question then that all Christian’s should be asking themselves is not “is it wrong”, but rather “is it beneficial to my spiritual growth”. This question raises our concern regarding spiritual life to a whole new level. It is deciding that although something is not necessarily sinful, it is not best for me. Paul was willing to forsake all (Php 3:8) if it meant that he would gain a greater knowledge of God and experience the power of his resurrection (Php 3:10). Like the olympic runner, he was running to win and would not allow anything to hold him back, even if it was not technically sinful.
Paul’s desire to discipline himself and to avoid anything that might hurt his spiritual life is a great mark of spiritual maturity. Whereas the spiritually immature often conform to the prevailing standards of a church out of obligation, the spiritually mature willingly limit their liberty in order to protect the precious relationship they have with God. Paul’s motivation for self-discipline was not to please people, to fit in, or to earn God’s favour, but to ensure that he would not become a spiritual failure. As such, true self-discipline starts in the heart. It is motivated by sincere desire to live a life close to God and to encourage others to do the same. It is this same desire that should motivate us to discpline ourselves.
2. Encouraging The Brethren
Look Up: 1 Cor 10:23. Q. In this passage Paul repeats what he has already said in 1 Cor 6 but adds a phrase. What else should we take into consideration when deciding whether or not something is right to take part in?
To edify simply means to build up. Paul not only exhorted the churches to build up one another (Rom 14:19; Rom 15:2; 1 Cor 8:1; 1 Cor 14; Eph 4:12; Eph 4:29; 1 Thess 5:11), but he himself was always conscious as to whether or not his actions would be a benefit or a stumbling block to his fellow Christians (1 Cor 8:13; 2 Cor 12:19).
The eighth chapter of Corinthians is a wonderful example of Paul’s willingness to deny his own flesh for the sake of others. He was willing to abstain from eating meat offered to idols if it meant the edification of the brethren.
Discuss. What are some things that we might avoid entirely for the sake of weaker Christians even though they are not necessarily sinful?
3. Avoiding Bondage
Q. Look back at 1 Cor 6:12. What did Paul say he would not allow to happen?
Paul understood that although we are under grace and not the law, not all things were beneficial for us. He also understood that not all things edify or build up the brethren. Further still, he understood that there are some things that are not necessarily sinful but have the potential to bring us into bondage. For all of these reasons he was willing to discipline his body and to bring it under his control.
Would you give your child a box of chocolates and trust them to only eat as much as is healthy? Or would you give them a limit knowing that they have a tendency to overindulge? Not unlike that child our flesh tends toward indulgence. And left unchecked, indulgence can lead to bondage.
How can you tell if you have become the servant of something that used to just be a harmless enjoyment? It might help to ask yourself the following questions:
1. Does this thing occupy an inordinate amount of my thought life?
2. Does this thing prevent me from accomplishing important tasks?
3. Have I begun to sacrifice social interaction, family life or friendships in favour of this thing?
4. Have I changed my social circle to one which revolves around this thing?
5. Do I spend an inappropriate amount of time, money or resources on this thing?
6. Have I become embarrassed or secretive about this thing?
7. Do I become irritated or angry when someone I love prevents me from taking part in this thing?
8. Have I tried to stop or limit this thing only to fail repeatedly?
There are some habits which are out-and-out sinful like drugs, alcohol and pornography but what about other things like food, entertainment and social media? These (and just about anything else) can be done in excess, thus creating a habit and bringing us unto bondage. Each individual ought to consider what it is in their lives that tends to bring them into bondage and then seek to moderate or abstain from those things.
Look Up: Heb 12:1. Q. In Hebrews 11 we see a list of great men and women of faith. Following this list in chapter 12 the writer of Hebrews encourages us to follow their example. What two things does the writer tell us we should “lay aside”?
Q. What will laying aside these things help us to do?
Remember, we started by looking at Paul’s analogy in 1 Cor 9 of an olympic runner. Here we are told that in order to successfully run this race we must lay aside, not only sin, but everything that weighs us down. Everything that produces an unnecessary burden upon us, that distracts and hinders us from focusing on the things of God.
Discuss. What are some other things that are OK in moderation but are unhealthy in excess?
Learning Moderation – The Key to Self Discipline
Look Up: Q. Considering 1 Cor 9:25 again, What approach must a serious athlete take toward “all things”?
To be “temperate” means to exercise self-restraint. Webster’s 1828 dictionary has it this way: “Moderation; particularly, habitual moderation in regard to the indulgence of the natural appetites and passions;”. Let’s consider some things that prevent us from practicing moderation.
1. Enemies of Moderation – Laziness
Moderation involves harnessing our appetites and guarding against extremes in everything we do. Moderation requires a consistent assessment of our behaviour and because it requires consistency it is very difficult for the lazy or undisciplined person to practice.
Laziness is itself an act of extremisim. It is over indulging in sleep, relaxation, entertainment etc. The moderate will practice a reasonable bedtime and waking time (Prov 6:9-11). He will discipline himself to do all things with reasonableness, avoiding extremes in every area, including food and rest.
Discuss. How can physical laziness affect our spiritual life?
Another enemy of moderation is legalism. The legalist seeks discipline or temperance through the rigid adherence to rules.
The legalist is prone to extreme swings in his spiritual devotion. When he finds himself over-indulging his flesh he will make some new rule or extreme decision to abstain from something that is not necessarily sinful. His lack of moderation leads him to make unneccessary rules. Unlike Paul, the legalist seeks to control himself, not from an inward desire to succeed spiritually, but from the outward pressure of a set of laws.
The legalist is prone to extremism in every area. He can swing from over-indulgence in the flesh to extreme decisions for God, and back to his flesh. He is the one who has “rededicated” his life to God countless times but never seems to stick to it. He has never learned moderation.
One doesn’t have to be a legalist to act like one. Sometimes the lazy, undisciplined, unorganized Christian can get fed up with their inconsistency and as a result make drastic decisions in their life in an effort to get their spiritual life in order. These folks decide to get rid of their TV’s when they spend too much time watching. They cancel their internet access to combat their obsessive surfing. They start an extreme diet when their eating is out of control. And, within a week or two they are out shopping for another TV, reconnecting their internet and back to their old eating habits. Why? Because the extremism that was behind their lack of spirituality is the same extremism that drove their spike in spiritual interest. What this Christian needs is not more “decisions for God” or more rules. They need to learn self-discipline.
The libertine is one who is not at all concerned with moderation. He feels that since he is “under grace”, he need not worry about self-discipline. He indulges his flesh, figuring he can simply ask God’s forgiveness if he stumbles into sin. His overarching concern is not “knowing God and the power of his resurrection”, but getting as much satisfaction out of this life as he can.
Learning Moderation – The Key to Genuine Liberty
Ironically, it is not the lazy, the legalist or the libertine that experiences the most liberty. It is the moderate. The Christian who has learned to handle his appetites with moderation is free to experience all sorts of things that the lazy extremist or the legalist cannot. Because the moderate, like Paul, has learned “not be brought under the power of any”, he can enjoy things that the lazy extremist or the legalist could not handle (1 Cor 8).
While the lazy extremist is in bondage to something and the legalist is making new rules to govern the use of that thing, the self-disciplined Christian is enjoying it in moderation. Whether it be entertainment, food, social media, sports, hobbies or anything else, the self-disciplined person can enjoy them all without fear of bondage. He has learned what is reasonable and enjoys them only to that extent.
Essential to the Christian life is self-discipline. At the moment we became a disciple of Christ we entered into a lifestyle of self-denial and discipline. Paul understood this well and even likened it to the disciplined life of an Olympic athlete. We do not work for salvation, or to earn God’s favour, but we do work diligently to avail ourselves to the tools which God has given us for spiritual growth (His word, prayer, fellowship, preaching, etc). We also work diligently to protect our spiritual life by abstaining from sin and by doing everything else in moderation.
The Christian walk is one of consistent discipline. When we consistently pray, read God’s word, and apply it, we will see growth. But the hit-and-miss, inconsistent, Christian who swings between extremes of devotion and apathy will never make much spiritual progress.
This week’s attitude of the heart is that of contentment. To be content is to be satisfied. It is the opposite of lust or covetousness. The apostle Paul was a great example of contentment. Look at Philippians 4:11-13.
Philippians 4:11. Q. What had Paul learned?
Q. v12. In what circumstances was Paul able to exercise the attitude of contentment?
Q. v13. How was he able to do this?
If there is an attitude that is completely foreign to our present world it is the attitude of contentment. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements designed to shake us out of our contentment and to breed in us a sense of need, want, entitlement and discontentment. We then head out of our houses and into the shopping malls! Our economy is driven by the fuel of discontentment.
In a society where meaning and fulfillment are often derived from material goods, it can be difficult even for a Christian to live in contentment. To help us to have a continual attitude of contentment we should remember the following six principles:
1. Stuff Does Not Produce Satisfaction
Ecc 5:10. Q. According to Solomon, the richest man that ever lived, what will never bring satisfaction?
Discuss. Why do you think the man that loves “silver” and “increase” will never be satisfied with these things?
We live in a relatively affluent society and as such, we rarely have pressing needs that cannot easily be met. We have quick access to everything we could want or need and are provided the means to obtain those things whether we can afford them or not! And then we are told that our success and self-worth is measured by how much stuff we have obtained. This distorted view of contentment and material goods is in direct contradiction to what Jesus taught:
Luke 12:15 Q. What did Jesus warn us to avoid?
Q. What does not define the quality of one’s life?
Contentment will not come as long as we have a distorted view of material things. Deriving satisfaction and fulfillment from things is putting an expectation on material things that only God can fulfill. This world’s continual quest for more and more stuff is really a quest for meaning, fulfillment and satisfaction – something material things can never produce.
Discuss. Why do you think that some of the richest men and women in the world seem to be the most dissatisfied?
2. Wants Are Not Needs
Many folks are discontent because they have convinced themselves that their wants are actually needs.
Discuss. Imagine that you are on a sinking ship and the only way to survive is to throw overboard extra weight. What things in your life would go first? How much that you own is actually necessary and how much is just dead weight?
Luke 12:22-28 Q. What did God promise to provide for us?
1 Tim 6:8. Q. What did Paul tell Timothy we should be content with?
Q. Based upon your answers above, how could you summarize our needs?
God has promised to provide for the needs of his children. But God’s measure of needs and our measure of needs is often very different. Whereas we might consider convenience and entertainment as necessities, God simply says “food and clothing”.
1 Tim 6:7. Q. What will happen to everything we have accumulated when we die?
All the things that we have worked so hard at accumulating in this life will ultimately be left behind and only those things done for the glory of God will remain (1 Cor 3:11-15).
Matt 6:31-34. Q. If God will provide our needs, and material goods are not of any eternal importance, where should we focus our efforts and desires? (see also Col 3:2)
3. All That We Have Comes From God
Oftentimes what leads us to a spirit of discontentment or covetousness is a feeling of injustice regarding our circumstances. We feel we deserve more or are “owed” more than what we have. We compare ourselves to others and decide that our standard of living ought to be higher than it is. This type of discontentment only comes when we first lose sight of the fact that God is in control and that He is our provider. We see an unfortunate example of this in Numbers chapter 11.
Numbers 11:1. Q. What displeased the Lord? What was God’s response?
Numbers 11:4-6. Q. It wasn’t long after God’s fiery judgment that discontentment reared its head once again. Who started the complaining in verse 4?
Q. Who else began to complain? .
These families became dissatisfied with the manna which God had provided for them and began to lust after the foods which they had in Egypt. It is not surprising that the ungodly mob of people who followed the Jews out of Egypt became discontented. But what is shameful is that God’s people, taking their cue from this “mixed multitude”, also began to murmur and complain.
Numbers 11:6. Q. Who provided the manna? (Exodus 16:15).
Q. v6. How did these complainers refer to God’s provision of the manna?
God miraculously provided manna for Israel in the wilderness. This food was both flavorful and filling (Ex 16:18,31). It was enough to satisfy the needs of Israel, but not enough to satisfy their lusts. They became discontent with God’s provision and began to crave the food from the Godless nation of Egypt. When we turn to the world to satisfy our lusts we are no better than the Israelites who were longing for Egypt. And like the Israelites, our lustful attitude has discontentment with God as it’s source.
Numbers 11:18. Q. What did Israel say about their life in Egypt?
Exodus 3:7. Q. Israel had a short memory. What motivated God to deliver them from Egypt?
Israel complained in Egypt, were delivered by God, and complained some more. This is evidence that discontented people will not be satisfied in any circumstances!
Numbers 11:33. Q. God ultimately sent an abundance of quail to be eaten by all the people. Q. What happened when they were in the midst of satisfying their lust for meat?
God had already planned to execute judgment upon these discontent, unthankful complainers before he sent quail for them to eat. He had given them over to their lusts and allowed them to reach the unfortunate end of their murmuring. Instead of being content with a little and the Lord, they preferred an abundance without Him. They got their wish!
Summarize Proverbs 15:16.
Whether we have an abundance or whether we lack we are in circumstances orchestrated by God. He is the sovereign of the universe and the provider of everything (Rom 8:28, James 1:17). Because God is sovereign, a complaint about our circumstances is a complaint against Him.
4. Needs are an Opportunity for God to Provide
Matt 6:31-33. Q. Why should we not be anxious about our needs? (v32)
2 Cor 9:1-15. In this passage Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to follow through with a commitment they had made to give financial relief to the Macedonian church.
Q. In v6 he is comparing giving financially to sowing and reaping seed. What will the person who gives little receive? What about the one who gives much?
Q. v8. When we incur a need because of our liberal giving, what is God able to do?
When we have needs it is an opportunity to trust God to provide for us. 2 Cor 9:10-12 indicates that God’s provision is fourfold. He provides us with the substance to give to others, he replaces the necessities we may have sacrificed through our giving, he multiplies the effectiveness of our giving, and he uses our giving to bring forth righteousness and thanksgiving in his kingdom. This is the same truth found in Prov 11:24 There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. (see also Prov 19:17, Luke 6:38)
1 Tim 6:17-18. Q. How did Paul tell Timothy he should warn the rich?
Q. What should they trust in?
Q. According to v18, what should they be ready to do?
Whereas needs are an opportunity to trust and rely upon God’s provision, a lack of want often causes us to forget God and trust in our own riches.
Rev 3:16-17. Q. What attitude did the riches of the Laodicean church create?
Q. How did Christ feel about this church?
Instead of being anxious about our needs being met and doing all we can to ensure that we never go without, we should look at trials and needs as opportunities to trust God and to see him work.
Discuss. How might having a need end up being a greater blessing than having everything we want?
5. Christ is the Source of Continual Contentment
We started this study by considering the example of the Apostle Paul and his contentment in all sorts of circumstances. He learned to be content when he had much and when he had little. Q. According to Php 4:13, what was the source and strength of his contentment?
1 Timothy 6:6. Q. What, when added to contentment, is great gain?
Matthew 6:33. Q. After Jesus told us to not be anxious in seeking the fulfillment of our needs, what did he tell us to seek?
It is often a lack of godliness and righteousness that causes us to look to the world for satisfaction. In contrast, true contentment comes only through a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. When our focus is right and we seek the righteousness of God above all else, the material things of this world will tend to lose their luster.
Discuss. How might God go about teaching us that true contentment comes only through a right relationship with Jesus Christ?
Now, having considered that stuff does not produce satisfaction, that wants are not needs, that all we have comes from God, that needs are an opportunity for God to provide, and that Christ is the source of continual contentment, let’s look at one last principle that will help us to maintain contentment – Others are more important than ourselves.
6. Others are More Important than Ourselves
The covetous man is a self-centered man. His covetousness prevents him from rejoicing when others are blessed (1 Cor 12:26). Instead of rejoicing when others are blessed he looks at their blessings with envy. He is preoccupied with getting more and better stuff and, as a result, overlooks the needs of others while indulging in his wants.
Philippians 2:3-4. Q. How should we view one another?
Q. v4. How will valuing others above ourselves change our view of material goods?
1 Cor 10:24. Q. What should we seek? In contrast to what?
1 Cor 13:4-5. Q. What are we expressing when we seek the well being of others?
Discontentment with our own circumstances will make it very difficult to give to others. In fact, according to 1 Cor 13, our self-centered approach to material goods is unloving. It puts ourselves first and other’s last which is the exact opposite of the example which Christ left us (Php 2:5-11).
Stuff does not produce satisfaction, Wants are not needs, All that we have comes from God, Needs are an opportunity for God to provide, Christ is the source of continual contentment, and Others are more important than ourselves. Next time you find yourself discontent with your circumstances consider which of these principles you have forgotten!
1. It is not uncommon for depression or trauma to drive people to compulsive shopping or hoarding. Why do you think this is the case?
a. Why will they never be satisfied?
2. How can we maintain a right attitude toward material things next time the latest electronics or fashion catches our eye?
3. How might an understanding that all that we have comes from God help us to cope with needs or trials?
4. All sin is dissatisfaction with God, yet God is the source of all blessings. How can we become more satisfied with Him?
5. How does contentment with our circumstances enable us to be more giving to others?
Unity is not technically an “attitude” but the desire for, and pursuit of unity can certainly be classified as an attitude of the heart. God’s desire for the church is perfect unity. Jesus prayed that the church “may be one” (John 17) as such, much of the Spirit’s internal work has the purpose of producing spiritual unity in the church (Eph 4).
Discuss. How would you define unity?
1 Peter 3:8. Q. What did Peter encourage believers to be?
2 Cor 13:11. Q. How did Paul encourage the Corinthians to be unified?
1 Cor 1:10. Q. In what 4 ways is unity described in this verse?
Unity can be described negatively as “a lack of division” or it can be described positively as having commonality in our thoughts, desires, affections, pursuits and consequently, our actions.
The World’s Unity vs. The Spirit’s Unity
Unity is hard to come by in this world. Generally, worldy unity is artificial and fragile. Unity in the world is accomplished when individuals see it as in their best interest to lay aside differences. This type of unity is fleeting. When one party feels that his needs or wants aren’t being met he will, driven by self-interest, disrupt the unity. Spiritual unity is not this way.
Eph 4:1-6. Q. What did Paul encourage the Ephesians to “keep”?
There is a stark contrast between the world’s “spirit of unity” and the church’s “unity of the Spirit”. The focus of a “spirit of unity” is unity for unity’s sake and often results in compromise and a lowest-common-denominator type of religion. The “unity of the Spirit” is a principled, spirit-led and spirit-empowered unity under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
In our day of countless denominations, worldy compromise and doctrinal ignorance there is a consistent call for the unification of the body of Christ. Oftentimes these would-be unifiers call for unity “at any cost”. They are willing to lay aside most anything that causes division, including distinct, biblical doctrine and standards of personal holiness. This is not Spiritual unity. Jesus himself said that there are times when division is necessary (Luke 12:51-53; Matt 18:17).
Spiritual unity keeps the Spirit of God as it’s center and it’s circumference. All that we are and all that we do must please the Spirit of God. For this reason, it makes no sense to compromise doctrine or holiness in an effort to unify. In doing so, we grieve our very source of spiritual unity and are left only with unity for unity’s sake.
Discuss. When might division be required instead of unity?
God’s Provision for Lasting Unity
Spiritual unity does not come about by organization or outward pressure, nor is it driven by self-interest. Spiritual unity is produced by the inward work of the Holy Spirit as He motivates us to please our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Spiritual unity was a mark of the early church:
Acts 1:14, Acts 2:1. Q. What phrase in these verses indicates the early church’s unity?
Acts 4:32-37. Verse 32 tells us that the early church was of one heart and of one soul. Q. How do we know that this unity was not driven by self interest?
Q. v33. What spiritual fruit was produced by this unity?
After the death of Jesus Christ, the disciples were initially distraught. They did not understand God’s redemptive plan. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were sad, Peter returned to his fishing trade, Thomas doubted the resurrection. This was an opportunity for discord and dispondency but neither of these came to pass. Shortly after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples and gave them a unified comission (Matt 28:19-20), and told them all to meet together in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4). They were immediately unified in obedience to their risen Lord.
The Indwelling Spirit
The disciples, in obedience to Christ, met together and continued in one accord in prayer and supplication. Then, in Acts 2, we see how Jesus Christ planned for this unity to continue and to grow.
Acts 2:4. Q. What provision did Jesus Christ send to the church?
John 17:20-23. Q. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit as actually an act of the Father in answer to the prayer of Jesus Christ (John 14:26). What did Jesus pray for believers in this passage?
Christ’s prayer was not primarily about practical unity in daily church life but about the spiritual union that takes place at the moment of salvation. This spiritual union with Christ, the Father and all other believers happens as God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within the believer. In John 17:22, Jesus prayed And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one. The Holy Spirit is the “glory” which God the Father has given us and the means by which all believers are united to Him. We are one because we now share his very nature.
The Bible refers to this moment of uniting with God by his indwelling spirit as being “baptized into Christ” (Gal 3:27). For this reason also, the church is referred to as the “body of Christ” (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 4:12)
1 Cor 12:13. Q. What has the Spirit done for us? How does this verse speak of unity?
Eph 4:4-6. Q. What 7 things speak of Christian unity?
All believers share the same Lord, same faith, same God, same calling, are part of the same body, and have been baptized by the same spirit. Our baptism into the body of Christ speaks of our positional or spiritual unity. This took place on a spiritual level at the moment of salvation and will never change. This unity is essential for, but different than, the practical unity which every church must work to achieve.
Unity Through Maturity
After Paul listed the seven things which bring unity from diversity in Eph 4:4-6, he went on to list the diverse spiritual gifts that exist within the unity of the church.
Eph 4:12-13. Each of these gifts are for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:. In short, they produce spiritual maturity. Q. According to verse 13, what result will the exercise of these gifts produce?
Unity, knowledge of the Son of God, and Christ-likeness are all marks of spiritual maturity. Q. According to verse 14, what other mark of spiritual maturity goes hand-in-hand with unity and Christ-likeness?
Discuss. How do you think spiritual maturity contributes to church unity?
Unity in the church is produced when Christian men and women grow in the faith. This growh entails increasing in the knowledge of Christ and becoming stable in our doctrine. When we all seek to please the same Lord, studying and obeying the same Bible, adhering to the same doctrine we will naturally be unified. In contrast to this unified maturity, division in the church is a hallmark of spiritual immaturity.
1 Cor 3:1-4. Q. v1-2. How could Paul not speak to the Corinthians? Q. What do these verses indicate about their spiritual maturity?
Q. v3-4. What evidence did Paul give of their spiritual immaturity?
Prov 6:16-19. Q. What does God think about someone who “soweth discord among brethren”?
Church unity is the product of men and women growing in the Lord and walking in the Spirit. As an individual Christian matures he grows in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. These are the fruit or evidence of the Spirit’s working (Gal 5:22-23). This spiritual fruit is developed in each and every growing Christian and as such, leads them to have new and increasing areas of commonality. The Christ-like character in me, will not clash with the Christ-like character in you!
Rom 15:5-6. Q. What did Paul want God to do for the Romans?
Q. On what basis were they to be likeminded? (according to..)
Q. What would the result of this likemindedness be?
In the church we do not need to search in vain for areas of common interest. We are not strangers trying to get along. We are brothers and sisters in Christ with the exact same Spirit working to make us all like Jesus Christ. Our love for the Lord Jesus Christ and the transforming power of the Spirit of God is what produces the ability for us to walk in supernatural unity. For this reason a growing church is a unified church.
Unity Through Labour
Eph 4:3. Q. What word in this verse speaks of the effort required to maintain unity in the church?
Like many aspects of the Christian life, unity is two-fold. It involves both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. On one hand there is God’s sovereign provision of the Holy Spirit as the source of our unity and on the other hand there is our responsibility to endeavour to keep unity. To endeavour means to use “diligence”, “labour” and “effort”. In other words, unity takes work!
Php 2:1-2. In verse 1 of this passage Paul is giving the reasoning or motivations for his exhoration to unity. The word if found in this verse can be better understood as “because”. Q. What 4 things does Paul list as motivations for unity?
Q. Being motivated by the 4 blessings in verse one, what does Paul exhort the church to do in verse 2?
The encouragement and comfort we have in Christ, the fellowship we have with the Spirit and the mercies which God has shown us should motivate us in gratitude, indebtedness and obedience to labour to keep the unity in the church.
Spiritual Attitudes That Maintain Unity
As we have already learned, spiritual maturity leads to unity in the church. The reason for this is that spiritually mature Christians will exhibit Christ-like character qualities. When we learn to respond to hurts, offenses and accusations with the meekness and gentleness that Christ did, we will be well on the way to maintaining unity in the church.
Now, let’s explore a few of the spiritual attitudes which maintain unity.
Eph 4:2-6. Q. In this passage Paul is telling the Ephesians to walk worthy of their salvation and to work at maintaining unity in the Spirit. What six attitudes are essential for keeping this unity?
Humility is one of the overarching character qualities that should define all Christians. God abhors pride. It was the very sin that had Satan cast from Heaven. It had no place in the presence of God in heaven, nor does it have a place in His church.
Php 2:5-8. Q. What quality of Christ does Paul tell us we should exhibit? How would this contribute to unity in the church?
Discuss. How might exercising humility help to maintain unity in the church?
Prov 13:10. Q. What is pride always the cause of?
Pride will, without fail, bring about arguments and offenses in the church. We can expect to find ourselves in situations where we disagree with others. The question is, how do we respond? Do we allow a contentious conversation to ensue so that we can prove our point? Do we go out of our way to prove ourselves right? Do we dwell on the disagreement? Do we involve others? All of these responses are driven by pride, show a lack of humility and will result in disunity.
Phil 2:1-3. Q. In this passage Paul is encouraging the Philippians to be likeminded, to have the same love, to be of one accord and one mind. In verse 3 he tells us how to maintain this unity. How should we never allow things to be done?
Q. What attitude should we have? How does this affect the way we view others?
Romans 12:16 tells us not to “mind high things” and to “condescend to men of low estate”. Romans 12:10 tells us to be “kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” and to “prefer one another”. Humility involves considering others as superior to ourselves. In a world driven by pride, that is a very difficult thing to do. Our flesh naturally desires pre-eminence and oftentimes attains it by looking down upon others. God hates pride and has designed the entire salvation plan so as to exclude any human boasting. For the sake of spiritual unity we should ensure that nothing that we do has even a hint of fleshly pride.
Discuss. How might thinking of others as better than ourselves show itself practically?
“Meekness” is a humble attitude that expresses itself in the patient endurance of offenses. A meek person does not assert himself. He does not “always have to be right”. He does not engage in arguments which cause strife. He does not react harshly. He has learned how to maintain unity by putting down his own pride and making peace his priority.
Prov 16:32. Q. Who is better than the mighty? Who is better than one who taketh a city?
Prov 15:1. Q. If we find ourselves in a situation where someone is upset with us or “looking for an argument”, how should we respond?
Q. What is the likely result of this response?
Q. What is likely to happen if we respond to this person on their terms with anger, sarcasm or criticism?
It takes two to argue. Oftentimes those who are disgruntled look for opportunities to cause strife. They approach you with an angry, irritated tone or sarcastic words hoping to evoke an emotional response from you. When you oblige them by reacting with the same attitude they have, you have allowed them to successfully “stir up anger” and consequently, to cause division in the church. On the other hand, if you were to respond to this person with meekness, gentleness and humility it would have the same effect as throwing water on a fire. You rob the person of the fuel they need to fan their anger into wrath and bitterness.
1 Peter 3:8-9. Q. Peter tells us to be of one mind to have compassion one of another to love as brethren to be pitiful and to be courteous. Q. According to verse 9, how can we maintain these right attitudes?
Jesus told us how to handle offenses in Matt 5:39. He indicates that “turning the other cheek” is the same as “resisting evil”. Sometimes a meek and humble spirit is the best resistance against division in the church.
Longsuffering speaks of being long tempered, patient, and having endurance through negative circumstances. Especially when dealing with others.
Paul told Timothy to preach and encourage with all longsuffering. In 1 Corinthians 13 we see that longsuffering is a characteristic of love. Romans 2:4 tells us that God is longsuffering toward us. To be longsuffering is to be patient and gracious with others even in the face of their shortcomings, immaturity and sin. It is enduring humility, enduring meekness and enduring love even when our flesh tempts us to give up on others.
Forbearance is even more intense than longsuffering. It literally means to put up with one another. It is loving in the midst of other’s imperfections, faults, annoyances even when it is taxing on us.
Love and Peace
All of the above must be done in the context of love and with the desire of maintaining peace.
Rom 12:10. Q. How does Paul tell us we should feel toward one another?
Rom 14:19. Q. What does Paul tell us we should pursue? (follow after). What will these things also be good for?
God hates discord in the church. He has placed us all into one body by one baptism of the Spirit with one Lord, one God and one Father of all. He has provided everything we need for continual oneness but, because we still exist in our mortal, sin-prone bodies we must always endeavour to keep unity and to resist division. The best way for the church to function in continual unity is for it’s members to be in a continual state of spiritual growth, consistently exhibiting the character qualities of Christ and employing the tools for unity which God has left us. When a church functions this way, they can with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 15:6)